This week I watched this wonderful interview, the last given by the late, great Scot, Iain Banks talking to the not late but just as Scottish Kirsty Wark, in which he refers to himself as “an evangelical atheist”.
Now, I have touched on my complete lack of any religious faith before, but I have made a point of steering clear of theological discussions as I find that I tend to antagonise people who do have faith.
This isn’t always intentional I might add.
Much as I applaud Iain Banks’ stand on behalf of
sanity atheism, and his desire to knock on people’s doors and ask if they’ve heard the good word facts, I always find that this sort of approach is counterproductive.
Because the argument from some believers is that if you’re going to go around promoting atheism (instead of quietly sitting there not believing to yourself, presumably) then you’re probably over-compensating for your fervent religious beliefs as some sort of panacea to your inner heathen.
Although obviously that is an outrageous argument to use in defence of atheism.
For instance, I could say that people go to church on Sunday to loudly and publicly declare their faith in God by praying and singing hymns in order to supress their utter denial of His existence.
Simply to blot out the gigantic screaming void left in their psyche by the sheer gibbering terror brought on by the thought that maybe, to put it simply, Shit Just Happens.
But I wouldn’t say that because I recognise that those people actually believe this stuff.
So why is it that so many of the faithful have such trouble getting to grips with atheism’s insistence on relying on things that we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell for our view of the world?
One thing that I didn’t agree with Iain Banks on was that it was a good idea to have “just that half a percent of agnosticism” to account for the infinitesimally small chance that you might be wrong.
To me that seems like defeating the point of atheism. It’s pretty much an all or nothing deal as far as I’m concerned.
However, that particular point does give me an excuse to crowbar in this classic sketch from pre-Bean Rowan Atkinson.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hell…
The other thing about the freedom of religion/atheism divide that irks me is the apparent right of all sorts of beaming, glassy-eyed devotees of any number of faiths/cults to knock on my door while I’m eating my dinner and ask me if I’ve heard The Word (you can hear the capitals) and if not, have I got just a few minutes to spare so they can enlighten me.
In most cases what they’re basically saying boils down to; “We think your way of life is wrong and we’d like to educate you as to how you can live a better, less morally bankrupt existence. All you have to do is follow all these rules.”
Which is fine as far as it goes. Free country and all that.
But I think that it would only be fair to allow people such as myself the right to go round to my local Jehovah’s Witness’ house and ask him if it was ok for me put my feet up in his living room, roll a spliff, crack open a can of cider and watch Life of Brian on his telly, whilst discussing the relative merits of the latest Trent Reznor and OMD albums, as his life was sadly lacking in exposure to popular culture.
(And while we’re on the subject, how come the moral outrage frequently displayed towards enthusiasts of the occasional “jazz cigarette” isn’t swayed by the obvious argument of;
“If you believe God made everything, how can something this natural be wrong?”
In response to this, I was once told, by an especially self righteous example of this type of knee-jerk faux-Christian;
“Ah, but did not God make the apple too?”
“Oh I’m sorry, are we not allowed to eat apples now either then?” I enquired.
He suddenly looked confused, and then remembered he had somewhere else he urgently needed to be.)
We used to get bombarded by unwelcome visitors when we first moved here, but since then I think the word (no capitals) has gone out that we’re a lost cause.
I once answered the door to a couple of matching blond male godbots, wearing identical black trenchcoats, identical blinding white maniacal grins, and carrying matching black leather briefcases.
My original fear – that they were a pair of android hitmen, sent from the future to whack me for as-yet-uncommitted crimes against morality – were unfounded though, as they identified themselves as disciples of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
Ah, Mormons. Ok.
Me – I’m not interested thanks, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 1 – But you believe in the afterlife don’t you?
Me – No, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 2 – Ah, but you’d like to belive in it wouldn’t you?
Me (patiently) – No, as I said, I’m an atheist.
Godbot 1 (wide eyed) – My, you really are an atheist aren’t you?
Godbot 2 (hurriedly) – Sorry to have bothered you, goodbye.
You’d have thought I’d grown horns, right there in front of him.
It may be worth pointing out that Elaine was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness (she left the minute she was able to and has had no connection with them since she was 18) and is not their biggest fan either.
One morning two Jehovah’s Witness droids turned up on the doorstep just as Elaine had popped out for a couple of minutes.
Thinking she wouldn’t be best pleased if she came back and found them there, I was getting rid of them when she came up the drive and, recognising them for what they so obviously were, invited them in for a chat.
You should have seen the looks of amazement the pair of them exchanged as they crossed the threshold (a fairly unique experience for them I suspect) and were shown into the living room.
They soon got their confidence back when they went into their spiel however, but that faltered somewhat as Elaine began picking them up on points of their own dogma, which was when they probably realised they’d made a mistake taking us up on our invitation.
That’s when I started asking them about dinosaurs.
People who take every word of the Bible absolutely literally (or like the JWs, rewrite their own version) really, really hate it when you ask them how they explain dinosaurs. And these two weren’t any exception, getting very agitated in having their sermon being hijacked by a couple of smartass heathens.
We managed to keep them captive (by now surreptitiously glancing at their watches) for nearly an hour before one of them finally surrendered and said they had to meet the rest of the swarm, or whatever the collective noun is for pedestrian evangelists, thanked us (through gritted teeth if I’m not mistaken) for an interesting debate, and scarpered.
Now when the briefcase-toting army descend upon our neighbourhood, they always consult a little black notebook whilst standing at the bottom of our drive, look up at the house as if to check for evil auras or sulphurous fumes rising from the chimney, and then move on while averting their eyes.
To conclude this unplanned diatribe, another couple of clips of comedy meeting religion head on, and winning.
First some more Monty Python..
…and finally, from the mind of the great Douglas Adams.
As Dave Allen always used to say,
“Goodnight, and may your god go with you”